Like many composers (but by no means all, or even a majority), I am essentially a rationalist. I love putting musical elements together in patterns that tickle the brain with their layered recurrences, subtleties, clarity, elusiveness, forthrightness, etc.
I’ve learned over the years that my rationalist predilections are strong enough that I’m best off ignoring them. When I focus on other thought processes – emotional, intuitive – my music ends up having a good deal more warmth, while not sacrificing any of the structural rigor that seems to come naturally from my rational side. In other words, if I pretty much put the craft on autopilot while I focus on describing the view and passing out the fruit juice, we’ll all end up landing safely – and enjoy the ride that much more.
These thoughts come to mind as I wade through the thicket of finding the right notes and rhythms for my latest work. I’m constantly reminding myself to write exactly what I want to hear, patterns and formulas be damned.
Which leads to another thought: conventional wisdom says that many composers in the mid 20th-century were overly focused on finding a Holy Grail for pitch organization at the expense of other artistic elements.
By the end of the century, I think these Crusaders had largely shifted their attention to rhythmic and metric patterns, without sacrificing the desire to tame the unpredictable through formula.
Some fine music has come from these excursions, and I’ve written some myself, but it’s not where I am now. Now I just want to make sure I’m writing what I want to hear. Seems to me if everyone did that we’d have a much clearer understanding of who we are, collectively speaking.
But, of course, if everyone did that, I’d probably want to do something else.